When the Fellowship started for us in June, I had already been a part of four previous Kenan Fellow Artistic Projects, and had twenty close friends who had been Kenan Fellows before. Point being, I came prepared, in a way-- with expectations. I had an idea of how it all worked.
But if there is anything that has been ingrained in me more deeply over these last six months, it is that every experience is perfectly unique. With preparation or without, you must allow each moment, each piece of art, be what it is.
And, frankly, nothing could have quite prepared me for the incredible experience I had with the creation of The Orchard. When Kayla and I began considering the idea of collaborating on a concept, I was laying on a pile of rocks by a river in Tulsa, Oklahoma, finishing up the last leg of my musical tour. We were talking on the phone about what was consuming our minds at the time, and found enough similarities in our engrossed solo thought processes that collaboration seemed inevitable.
For both Kayla and me (and it seems Drew and Ben and Amanda as well… interesting…) space seemed to be a recurring thought-theme. I was coming off of a five-week tour by myself-- having seen for the first time the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park-- experiencing an amount of space that, having been in New York City for over two years (and the greater part of the last 8 years), was an overwhelming and welcome change. And I imagine that moving to New York for the first time brings up the awareness of space in another kind of way.
Kayla was also rediscovering yoga, and I had just finished a yoga teacher-training program. We were both fascinated by awareness of self, and, having been learning about Lincoln Center Institute’s philosophies, the responsibility and curiosity of self that is very much paralleled with yogic philosophies and discoveries.
Point being: the more we talked, the more obvious it became that all of these things belonged together in some way. And if we dug deeper into these concepts, perhaps we could find an artistic through-line.
We started rehearsal with the dancers not long after I returned from tour. Even if our project wasn’t going to be accepted, these were ideas that Kayla and I wanted to explore artistically. We spent the greater part of the first month of September meeting and talking and digging and reading and exploring…
After the project was accepted, we kicked things into high gear. Movement rehearsals were happening at least twice a week, moving up to about three times a week in November (once we had space availability at LCI!).
Dig. Read. Talk. Move. Meditate. Meet. Dig. Read. Explore.
There is a part of me that believes that if you explore earnestly, and dig deeply, and communicate openly, you will create something worth seeing. Sometimes I think I don’t know much beyond that about art making. But listening and making decisions that your brain doesn’t necessarily want but your gut knows is right-- there is something in that. And I will hopefully spend my life searching to understand that thing.
Why film for this piece? Mostly, originally, because one of the original visions for this piece was of humans hanging from trees, and I was not ready to give that up. I seem to have a lot of ideas for artwork that require people to be perfectly inhuman. In recognition of the fact that the Clark Studio Theater could likely not supply wires from which the dancers could hang in mid-air, video seemed the alternative.
Once the idea of including video in the production was accepted, our minds started reeling. You could do so much to create atmosphere with the added aspect of video projection. So if we’re going to do it-- let’s do it.
Meeting John Appleton was a great gift. His girlfriend was a dancer at School of the Arts and we met at a show. He off-handedly suggested that he was interested in film-art, and I off-handedly mentioned that I was doing the shooting, designing and editing of the film for this piece alone and I might tear my hair out with everything else I had going on, and thus-- love was born.
We had a meeting. I showed him the footage I had shot already, explained our vision for the piece, let him read the proposal and the Arc layout with choreography I had written, etc… But when he found out we were using Shostakovich’s 8th string quartet, he was hooked. What are the chances that that just so happens to be his very favorite string quartet of all time and he had been dying for years to do something with it and he already knew all of its history?
John and I scheduled a film shoot. I got Aaron, Katy and Dale to come out to Prospect Park in all black and we spent the day climbing trees and jumping from them.
I slipped into the role of film director like it was created for me. I have wanted to go in that direction for some time, and this shoot sort of settled it for me.
With December came the final music score decision, and things started rapidly falling into place. Things were tense at times and difficult, of course. Any piece this big, with this many aspects and collaborators is likely going to get intense at moments. And with Kayla out of town for the month of December, all of our communication was over phone and email. And a lot can get lost in translation when you aren’t face to face.
Just as I suspected, in our first meeting after she returned to New York in January, we flew through information together. It seemed all we needed was just an hour to sit down and be able to look at each other to understand what we had been trying to scream at each other via email for the last month. We both let out a bunch of “Oh!”s.
Tech rehearsals came and so did the musicians and then things started to become real. Syncing up video with live music with dancers with lighting with vision of how timing needed to happen in order for a movement to be effective… I suspected from the beginning would be a challenge. But these musicians proved to be incredible. They put these pieces of music together so quickly and were so willing to negotiate timings to the benefit of the concept of the piece.
One moment I will hold dearly for the rest of my life is a moment before the second performance on Sunday. We were in the Clark, and the dancers had a question about some musical timings that were slightly different in the live music than they were in the recordings we had been using. So, standing at the front, I asked the musicians to go to a particular measure in the music so the dancers could rehearse a moment in one section of the piece. We rehearsed that a few times. I felt like one of my deepest life-long dreams had been realized in this moment. Here I was, asking a string quartet to play something again and again, directing dancers-- I felt like choreographer for one of the great ballet companies, long ago. On a smaller scale, of course-- I certainly claim to be no Nijinsky in front of the Ballet Russes, but something in that moment made me feel a sense of timelessness. Of bigness. Which is exactly what Kayla and I were trying to create with this piece. I could have collapsed with happiness.
And how satisfied are we with a final product ever? I think all creators/directors wish at the end for one more week of rehearsal! Six more hours! Just give me a little more time and I can… But again, the lesson: you have to let it be exactly what it is. At some point you have to sit back (in my case, in the audience!) and just enjoy this thing you have put so much of your self and discovery and love into for the last six months. My expectation of the Fellowship was much like my original vision for this piece: eventually irrelevant. Because if you cling too tightly to that then you can’t feel what it becomes, you can only see what it has not become.
And on Sunday, with the relinquishing of this expectation, with the relinquishing of original vision, I allowed myself to be taken over by The Orchard into which I had been placed. And I cried. And I let something go. And in letting something go, I had the recognition of space inside of me. And whether that was my vision from the beginning or not, it was exactly what I needed. And I was moved.
Photos of The Orchard by Melissa Gawlowski, Lincoln Center Institute:
Katy Gilmore and Dale Harris
Dale Harris and Aaron McGloin
Dale Harris, Katy Gilmore, and Aaron McGloin
Dale Harris, Aaron McGloin, and Katy Gilmore
Kathryn Logan in rehearsal